Getting By on Little Sleep

Two studies to examine why some can and some can't

THURSDAY, April 24, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- While some of you can function on little sleep, others feel exhausted if they don't get a full night of slumber.

Currently, scientists don't have a full understanding of the biological differences between those two kinds of people. However, the U.S. Department of Defense is supporting two University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine studies to research the phenomenon.

The U.S. Navy will fund a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans to examine healthy adults who function well with little sleep on a regular basis and other people who sleep more than average.

"The idea is to see if there are baseline differences in brain function due to habitual sleep times and to see if one group or the other is less vulnerable to the effects of sleep loss. We have seen some informal evidence of differential responses in people, but there hasn't been a formal study to evaluate these differences," Sean P.A. Drummond, UCSD assistant professor of psychiatry, says in a news release.

In the second study, funded by the U.S. Army, UCSD researchers will use fMRI to explore longer-term sleep deprivation -- as long as 62 hours without sleep -- and the effect it has on brain function in people who sleep normal amounts.

If these studies can pinpoint the biological factors that let some people function well even when they're sleep-deprived, that information may help identify people who are suitable candidates for jobs that require long periods of wakefulness.

That would include long-haul truckers, pilots and soldiers.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about sleep.

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, April 16, 2003
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